2003 June 03 Tuesday
Death Rate From War Was Higher When Food Was Scarce

Obviously there are a lot of other reasons why the death rate from war has declined. History is over-determined by many factors. Theories that explains some historical trend based on a single factor are far more often wrong than right. Still, it makes sense that when hunger was far more common humans were often in the position where starting and winning a war would help them survive.

Why do today’s wars impose such a low percentage of deaths? We’re living in the first era when humans haven’t had to kill each other to protect food supplies for their families.

Stephen LeBlanc, of Harvard’s Peabody Museum, writes in the May/June issue of Archaelogy that resource-scarcity warfare left ample evidence of violent deaths, including mass graves, crushed skulls, and spear points between skeletal ribs. Researchers also find bows, arrows, spears, piles of slingshots and plaster sling missiles, lots of doughnut-shaped stones perfect for war club heads, and even prehistoric bone armor in the Arctic.

“The prehistoric people who lived in southern California had the highest incident of warfare deaths known anywhere in the world,” says LeBlanc. “Thirty percent of a large sample of males dating to the first centuries A.D. had wounds or died violent deaths. About half that number of women had similar histories. When we remember that not all warfare deaths leave skeletal evidence, this is a staggering number.”

From an evolutionary perspective, humans would not have such a capacity for aggressiion and lethal violence if violence had not been adaptive for much of human history. Of course now the same genetic predisposition toward aggression is problematic.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 June 03 12:18 PM  Human Nature


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